3 ways the eRate is being fixed immediately
“By applying a business-like approach, we have identified opportunities for greater productivity within the program, including significant improvements to the way funds are deployed,” explained Wheeler. “It is these improvements, for example, that will play a major role in allowing us to double, to $2 billion, the money to be spent on high-speed connections beginning this year.”
Wheeler proposed three ways the FCC will restructure granting funds to schools, allowing schools to get the money they need for connectivity, faster:
1. Applications that get the most students the most broadband will be reviewed and approved more quickly, and this doesn’t just mean students in large metropolitan areas.
“The current program, for instance, penalizes schools that apply jointly with other schools; because their applications are more complex, they often take longer to resolve,” he noted. “Henceforth they will be prioritized. We can start fixing that immediately.”
Those schools participating in the program that are eligible for Priority 1 services in 2014 will also be funded.
“There’s another advantage to consortia and other joint applications—they tend to get better prices for equipment and services by buying in bulk,” he explained. “This means that existing funds go farther.
2. Old applications will be reviewed in a more efficient manner.
Old applications, meaning appeals, holds and other outstanding requests, will be handled in a better fashion, said Wheeler. “In some cases, these processes have simply been too slow, with the result that hundreds of millions of dollars that could have been funding broadband is instead tied up in reserve accounts. We will get to work immediately to get those funds moving.”
3. Funds will focus on libraries.
“While we talk a lot about the connected school, we cannot overemphasize the crucial role of the connected library,” Wheeler emphasized. “In community after community the library is the only place where students can go after school for free Internet access to complete their assignments.”
According to recent research, a majority of American school children go to the public library to do school work. And for many of those students, it is the only link to the internet outside of school.
“That is really important when over 75 percent of K-12 teachers are assigning internet-required homework,” he said. “And during the summer, libraries are the only place for many students to go to continue their online exploration and learning.”
He continued, “The eRate is a program for schools and libraries. Or, let me put it another way: libraries and schools.”
Wheeler concluded his speech by saying the next “concrete step” will be the release of a Public Notice in the coming weeks that will seek comment on a targeted set of issues—issues on how to appropriately phase out legacy services, including low-bandwidth connections, and re-prioritize on broadband.
Wheeler hopes this process will be completed before students return to classrooms in the fall.